Mocha Dick

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1870 UK reprint, Mocha Dick: Or The White Whale of the Pacific by Jeremiah N. Reynolds, Cameron and Ferguson, London, Glasgow.

Mocha Dick was a notorious male sperm whale that lived in the Pacific Ocean in the early 19th century, usually encountered in the waters near the island of Mocha, off southern Chile. American explorer and author Jeremiah N. Reynolds published his account, "Mocha Dick: Or The White Whale of the Pacific: A Leaf from a Manuscript Journal" in 1839 in The Knickerbocker. Mocha Dick was an albino and partially inspired Herman Melville's 1851 novel Moby-Dick.[1]


Mocha Dick survived many skirmishes (by some accounts at least 100) with whalers before he was eventually killed. He was large and powerful, capable of wrecking small craft with his flukes. Explorer Jeremiah N. Reynolds gathered first-hand observations of Mocha Dick and published his account, "Mocha Dick: Or The White Whale of the Pacific: A Leaf from a Manuscript Journal", in the May 1839 issue of The Knickerbocker, describing the whale as "an old bull whale, of prodigious size and strength... white as wool.[2]:379 According to Reynolds, the whale's head was covered with barnacles, which gave him a rugged appearance. The whale also had a peculiar method of spouting:

Instead of projecting his spout obliquely forward, and puffing with a short, convulsive effort, accompanied by a snorting noise, as usual with his species, he flung the water from his nose in a lofty, perpendicular, expanded volume, at regular and somewhat distant intervals; its expulsion producing a continuous roar, like that of vapor struggling from the safety valve of a powerful steam engine.[2]:379

Mocha Dick was most likely first encountered and attacked sometime before 1810 off Mocha Island.[2]:377 His survival of the first encounters coupled with his unusual appearance quickly made him famous among Nantucket whalers. Many captains attempted to hunt him after rounding Cape Horn. He was quite docile, sometimes swimming alongside the ship, but once attacked he retaliated with ferocity and cunning, and was widely feared by harpooners. When agitated he would sound and then breach so aggressively that his entire body would sometimes come completely out of the water.[3]:66

In Reynolds' account, Mocha Dick was killed in 1838, after he appeared to come to the aid of a distraught cow whose calf had just been slain by the whalers. His body was 70 feet long and yielded 100 barrels of oil, along with some ambergris—a substance used in the making of perfumes and at times worth more per ounce than gold. He also had nineteen harpoons in his body.

A decade later, The Knickerbocker reported another sighting of Mocha Dick in the Arctic Ocean, concluding "Vive 'Mocha Dick'!".[4]:267–8


Mocha Dick was not, apparently, the only white whale in the sea. A Swedish whaler claimed to have taken a very old white whale off the coast of Brazil in 1859.[3]:72 In 1902, the New Bedford whaling bark Platina, captained by Thomas McKenzie, harpooned and killed an albino sperm whale near the Azores in the Atlantic Ocean, using a harpoon tipped with an explosive device.[5] Amos Smalley harpooned the white whale and recounted his experience to Reader's Digest. He remembers Captain McKenzie estimating by the wear on the whale's teeth that it was "at least a hundred years old, maybe two hundred".[6] Smalley was a guest at the premiere of John Huston's film, where he was introduced as "the man who killed Moby Dick".[7]

In 1952, Time Magazine reported the harpooning of a white whale off the coast of Peru.[8] Since 1991, there have been sightings reported of a white humpback whale near Australia, nicknamed Migaloo.[9] In 2012, a white humpback, nicknamed Willow the White Whale, was filmed off the coast of Norway.[10]


  1. ^ Delbanco, Andrew. Melville, His World and Work. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005: 167–168. ISBN 0-375-40314-0
  2. ^ a b c * J. N. Reynolds. "Mocha Dick: or the White Whale of the Pacific: A Leaf from a Manuscript Journal," The Knickerbocker, or New-York Monthly Magazine. Vol. 13, No. 5, May 1839, pp. 377–392.
  3. ^ a b Whipple, A. B. C. Yankee Whalers in the South Seas. Doubleday, 1954.
  4. ^ "Editor's Table, The Knickerbocker, Vol. 33, 1849.
  5. ^ "The Real Moby Dick", New Bedford Whaling Museum, n.d. Web. 13 May 2015.
  6. ^ Readers Digest Junior Omnibus. Montreal: Reader's Digest Association, 1958.
  7. ^ Honig, Bonnie. "Charged: Debt, Power, and the Politics of the Flesh in Shakespeares' Merchang, Melville's Moby-Dick, and Eric Santner's The Weight of All Flesh", in The Weight of All Flesh: On the Subject-Matter of Political Economy. Eric L. Santner. Oxford University Press, 2015. p. 170.
  8. ^ "Science: Captain Ahab Avenged", Time. February 11, 1952.
  9. ^ Kaine, Charmaine. Migaloo: Sightings of famous white whale likely to become rarer, expert says", ABC News. August 11, 2015. Accessed: November 20, 2015.
  10. ^ O'Doherty, Niamh. "The real-life Moby Dick: Incredibly rare WHITE humpback whale spotted off coast of Norway", The Daily Mail. November 15, 2012. Accessed: November 21, 2015.

Further Reading[edit]

  • Almy, Robert F. "J. N. Reynolds: A Brief Biography with Particular Reference to Poe and Symmes." The Colophon, 2 (1937): 227–245
  • Howe, Henry. "The Romantic History of Jeremiah N. Reynolds." Historical Collections of Ohio, vol 2. Cincinnati, 1889.

External links[edit]